Taking Mr. Exxon: The U.S. Kidnapping and Murder of an Oil Giant's President

Taking Mr. Exxon cover

On the morning of April 29, 1992, Exxon International President, Sidney J. Reso, tells his wife he loves her as he leaves his house headed to the office. At the end of the drive, he steps out of his car to pick up the newspaper as he does every morning. A van screeches to a stop and a man wearing a ski mask and wielding a .45-caliber pistol leaps from the vehicle and grabs Reso, shoving him into the back of the van. The man’s confederate, also wearing a mask and carrying a .357 Magnum, speeds away. In only seconds, the Exxon executive vanishes without a trace. No one sees or hears anything.

The 57-year old Reso is ordered into a wooden coffin-like box in the rear of the van. He resists and struggles with his abductor. The kidnapper smashes Mr. Reso’s face with the barrel of his gun, breaking several teeth, and then shoots him in the arm. A dazed Reso falls into the box where his wrists are handcuffed and ankles manacled, his eyes and mouth taped shut, and his legs and torso bound to the bottom of the wooden crate. Mr. Reso hears the lid slam shut and the padlock snap as the van takes him miles away from his wife of 37 years and his exclusive neighborhood in Morris Township, New Jersey. Still bound inside his wooden tomb, he is shoved into a suffocatingly hot metal storage unit where he will lie in complete darkness alone for days.

The two kidnappers, Arthur and Irene Seale, husband and wife, pose as members of an international environmental terrorist group called the “Rainbow Warriors,” still angry over the Exxon Valdez spill three years earlier. Their string of ransom letters and phone messages demand $18.5 million, the highest ransom ever exacted in U.S. history. The duo threatens that if their demands aren’t met, they will kill Sidney Reso and publicly exhibit his body, whereafter they will seize another Exxon executive. Their words chill not only the Reso family, but seasoned law officers as well.

The largest kidnapping investigation since Patty Hearst, numbering more than 200 FBI agents and 100 state and local officers and detectives, tries desperately to locate Mr. Reso while awaiting further instructions from the kidnappers. Exxon places the ransom money in a local bank. Weeks pass. The kidnappers are quiet. A frantic Mrs. Reso goes on local television to plead for her husband’s release. At last, the kidnappers surface. The time for the ransom drop has come.

On the night of June 18, law enforcement sets up surveillance over the entire area and the marked money is stuffed into laundry bags. Suspecting trouble, the kidnappers split up and telephone from pay phones, hustling agents from location to location and note to note over several counties. The marathon game of cat and mouse lasts four long hours. All the while, the Reso family anxiously awaits word. It comes at 1:30 a.m. Something has gone terribly wrong.

Read Taking Mr. Exxon to discover what happened.